Nearly every church cookbook I own from the 1960s – 1980s has some form of recipes for “porcupines”. They are usually little more than meatballs mixed with uncooked rice. As they cook the meat contracts and the rice expands to form “quills” on the surface of the meatball – hence the porcupine. Truth be told they look a little more like hedgehogs to me, but I wasn’t consulted when they were naming them.
This particular recipe comes from the 1984 cookbook compiled by St. Andrew’s Bingo Committee in Merrillville, Indiana. Judging from the surnames in the cookbook the parish in 1984 had a strong Polish-American contingent. There are a dozen or so recipes that are Polish or Polish-influenced; this seems to fall in the latter category. Instead of smothering them in a creamy gravy, the porcupines are boiled in a tomato-y broth along with a healthy dose of sliced cabbage. You’ve got all of the usual components for traditional Polish gołąbki but rearranged into a form that a 1980s home chef would recognize. (It’s also much less labor intensive than stuffing cabbage leaves)
I’ve made a few adjustments from the original recipe to align with the ingredients in my kitchen. I almost never have Minute Rice on hand and have substituted a long, curly basmati rice in its place. It provides a satsifying curliness to the porcupine’s quills. I’ve also chosen to use tomato juice as broth rather than heavily diluted canned tomato soup.
This recipe makes a heroic amount of meatballs and are almost a meal unto themselves. The sauce is thin and watery by design and needs either crusty bread or noodles to soak it up. The last time I made this for my family I made some simple dilled egg noodles, which seemed a perfect accompaniment. Or set some toothpicks next to the pot and serve them as appetizers – they are delicious on their own.
- Add beef, pork, rice, soup mix, garlic salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Mix well by smooshing with your hands until rice and seasonings are uniformly distributed throughout the mixture. Form into 1 inch meatballs.
- Bring tomato juice to a slow boil in a large stockpot or enameled dutch oven. Drop in meatballs one at a time. Add water as needed to cover the meatballs. Return to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add cabbage, then cover and continue to simmer 15 minutes more until meatballs are cooked through and cabbage is tender.